Softball – Trouble Area

Partner Communication Essential for Tough Plays at First


By Jay Miner

The last half of the distance from home plate to first base is one of the biggest trouble areas in softball. To stay on top of those sometimes surprising and often spontaneous events, it is vital for umpires to have understanding, communication, cooperation, judgment, common sense and thoughtful reasoning focused in that area. A comprehensive knowledge of the rules is also important as there are variations among different codes.

The base umpire will make most of those calls, but the plate umpire has important calls, too. The plate umpire must be aware of when to step up and make a call and when to be an observer of the action and wait to be summoned to provide additional information that may have been unseen by the base umpire.

On infield grounders with no runners on, the base umpire will move from position A behind first base to a calling position in fair territory. The plate umpire will exit to the left of the catcher and trail the batter-runner to first base moving not more than half of the way to first. With a runner(s) on base in a two-umpire system, the plate umpire exits to the left of the catcher on the first-base line extended to observe the play at first and be prepared to rule on a possible pulled foot or swipe tag by the first baseman, if requested by the base umpire.

Plate umpire’s call. If the throw to first base originates from in front of the plate, the plate umpire must be ready for possible three-foot lane interference by the batter-runner on the play going to first base. The plate umpire is responsible for ruling the ball fair or foul and determining if the batter-runner has at least one foot in the three-foot lane or if he or she is outside of the lane.

Three-foot-lane interference is primarily the responsibility of the plate umpire and results in an immediate and aggressive call: “Time! Time! That’s three-foot lane interference. The batter-runner is out.” Stand tall and sell the call.

Any other runners on base when three-foot lane interference occurs are entitled to remain on the last base touched at the time of the interference. In NCAA, other runners are returned to the bases they occupied at the time of the pitch (TOP).

Three-foot lane interference can occur only on a play going to first base. It cannot occur on a play going to the plate area.

Shared coverage. Usually, the plate umpire will call tag plays and other situations on the batter-runner the first 30 feet up the line and the base umpire will call the last half of the distance to first base. When a tag is near the halfway point, the two umpires must make eye contact to decide which umpire makes the call. If one umpire wants the call, he or she will point aggressively at the play with his or her left hand to show he or she has the call. The intent of the technique is that the other umpire will see the point and back off on the play.

It’s best to pregame that situation and determine ahead of time who will likely make the call. Usually, the umpire with the best view of the play should make the call. If the base umpire is in position C or D, it probably will be a lot easier for the plate umpire to take most tag plays in that situation.      

Batter-runner steps back toward home. When the batter-runner steps back toward the plate to avoid or delay a tag, the ball is dead and the batter-runner is out. Any other runners on base are entitled to the bases reached at the time of the infraction, except in NCAA, where runners are returned to the bases they occupied at TOP.

Swipe tag/pulled foot. The base umpire should concentrate and strive to get all swipe tags and pulled foot calls correct, and especially when they are on the same side of the diamond as the call. When help is needed the base umpire should ask for additional information from the plate umpire before making the call. The base umpire should not give the call to the plate umpire but should ask for specifics when needed. For example, “Joe, do you have a tag?” “Julie, did she pull her foot?” The plate umpire should not give an opinion on the swipe tag or pulled foot unless asked.

The base umpire should strive to get the angle to see a pulled foot at first base when on the same side of the diamond but may request help before making a call.

Dead-ball calls. Dead-ball calls on overthrows will be called primarily by the plate umpire but may be made by either umpire. Either umpire can make other dead-ball calls.

Interference and obstruction. Either umpire can make interference and obstruction calls. The majority of interference calls result in an immediate dead ball and obstruction calls are always delayed-dead.

Jay Miner is a longtime umpire, rules interpreter and former assigner from Albany, N.Y.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 09/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Volleyball – What’s the Rush?


By Jim Momsen

What does the phrase “leaving early” mean to you? Is it what you do when the conversation at a get-together starts getting heated about referees? Is it the act of exiting from your day job before the normal end of the day so you can get to your match assignment on time? Or, is it your explanation to a coach when he or she asks why you called the positional fault/illegal alignment on his or her team’s setter?

Let’s look at the third situation and ponder why some referees use the phrase more often than others.

Typically, “leaving early” describes the action of the receiving team’s setter moving to get into position to receive a teammate’s pass during serve-receive.

The rule that applies is “positional faults.” The description of a positional fault/illegal alignment is almost universal in NCAA, USAV and NFHS. Here’s the essence of the rule: The team commits illegal alignment or a positional fault if any player is not in the correct position, according to the location of his or her feet in contact with the court, at the moment the ball is contacted for service.

Are the receiving team’s players allowed to move before the service contact? Absolutely, as long as they still conform to the above rule!

So when is “leaving early” most prevalent? The setter is usually moving when he or she has a long distance to travel to get to his or her desired area for receiving a teammate’s pass. The three positions where that player needs to travel are when he or she is in receiving serve in position five (left-back), position four (left-front) or position one (right-back). The problem is that they may start their movement before the contact of service, and have moved to a different position relative to their teammates when the serve is contacted.

If that happens, what is the actual fault? Not that they left early, but, because of where they are located in relation to their teammates, they have committed a positional fault. The other terminology that is often used is that they are “overlapped,” though overlapped is typically used when two players start in the wrong positions.

The second referee should be watching the positions of the players on the receiving team at the time the ball is contacted for service. The second referee can listen for the sound of the service contact while watching the receiving team. You can tell when the hit is about to occur because the receiving team tends to become more tense and ready to react to the serve. Also, the setter is focusing on the server to begin his or her movement.

So, how do you describe the issue to the coach? Unless it is a blatant positional fault, warn the coach of any potential positional fault, whether it is the setter leaving early or that two teammates are getting very close to committing a positional fault. If you blow the whistle to call a positional fault, give the coach the numbers of the players that are out of position and where they should be and always use the terminology of the rule. For example, “Coach, number six is left-back and was to the right of number 12, your middle back, at the time of the service contact. That’s a positional fault (or that’s illegal alignment).”

Jim Momsen, Hartland, Wis., is a PAVO and USAV national referee and trainer, and a high school referee.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 03/14 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Basketball – Granting Timeouts


A point of emphasis this year in the NFHS revolves around the proper granting of timeouts. In the PlayPic, team A has just scored a basket and team B has the ball at its disposal for the ensuing throw-in. It is too late to grant a timeout to team A in that scenario. Team A may request and be granted a timeout only until the ensuing throw-in begins.

The throw-in begins when a player from team B has the ball at his/her disposal and the official has begun the five second count as shown. Be cognizant of coaches wanting to call timeouts, but don’t grant it to a team not in control of the ball if the request comes too late.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/07 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Baseball – All Eyes Are On You

Plays at the Plate Get All the Attention


By Matt Moore

There are close plays all over a baseball field and in every game. Half-steppers at first base. Fingertips on stolen base attempts. Pitches at or just below the knees throughout the game.

But nothing gets (or deserves) the amount of attention, anticipation and excitement of a play at the plate.

That excitement is heightened because of the collisions that are legal in the professional game. But even at the amateur levels, nothing comes close. Either a run is going to score or a rally is going to be cut short. The throw comes in. The runner slides (or crashes). Time seems to stop.

Knowing the rules, proper positioning and mechanics that govern plays at the plate will keep you from a bad result when all eyes are upon you.

Rules. In the professional game, almost anything goes. The catcher is fair game and the runner, in many cases, will treat him like a football tackling dummy. The closer the play, the more likely the collision will be violent. As long as the catcher holds the ball, the runner is going to be called out. I’ve never seen a runner ruled safe because there was no actual tag on a collision.

It’s different in NCAA and NFHS games. Because of safety concerns, collision and obstruction rules are in place to protect both the runner and the fielder.

The runner must be trying to reach the plate, while the catcher cannot deny access to the plate without the ball (NFHS 2-22-3) or without possession or being in the act of fielding the ball (NCAA 2-54).

Dave Yeast, the former NCAA national coordinator of umpires, explained the legal requirement on the runner in possibly the best way I’ve heard. He said that since the plate is in the ground, the runner can’t make contact high (i.e., a collision) and be trying to reach the plate at the same time. That got written into the 2011-12 NCAA rulebook (8-7) with this language: “If the defensive player blocks the base (plate) or baseline with clear possession of the ball, the runner may make contact, slide into or make contact with a fielder as long as the runner is making a legitimate attempt to reach the base (plate). Contact above the waist that was initiated by the baserunner shall not be judged as an attempt to reach the base or plate.”

The NFHS rule (8-4-2c) is stricter, declaring that a runner is out when he “does not legally attempt to avoid a fielder in the immediate act of making a play on him.” The runner is out and the ball remains live unless there was interference or malicious contact. That puts the onus of all contact onto the runner as long as the catcher has the ball.

What the rules do not cover, and can still happen on plays at the plate, are the so-called train wrecks — those plays in which the runner does what he’s supposed to do, the ball arrives at just the right (wrong) moment and there is a collision. Even violent collisions can be legal. If the catcher catches the ball in front of the plate and turns and, at the same moment, a runner has already committed to his next step, there is going to be contact. Neither has the ability to just disappear.

One additional item related to collisions: A runner who has already touched the plate can’t be called out, even if the contact is malicious. He can still be ejected, but his run counts. The lone exception to that is the force play slide rule.

Proper positioning. Some umpires firmly believe in taking plays at the plate from a set location, whether it is the third-base line extended or the first-base line extended. Both positions have faults, however.

From the third-base line extended, you can’t see a swipe tag on the runner’s backside. And from the first-base line extended, you can get blocked out and not see if the runner reached the plate, especially if he cuts to the inside.

Because a play can develop from a wide variety of angles, the best place to start is just off the dirt circle and directly behind the point of the plate. That gives you the option to read the throw and adjust accordingly. Stay along the outside of the dirt circle so that you keep your field of vision wide. You may end up along one of the foul lines extended, or you could possibly circle all the way around and end up in fair territory.

One thing you’ll have to be ready for is previous runners, the on-deck batter and the pitcher getting in your way. Use your voice to keep them clear, but also be aware they can be guilty of obstruction or interference.

No matter how you adjust and move to get the best angle, you should still be stopped and set for the play when it happens. Being set, however, does not mean dropping to one knee. That traps you and gives you little opportunity to move or react to a bad throw or a runner’s sudden movement.

Mechanics. There are two specific things you need to be aware of when it comes to your mechanics of making the call — timing and the runner actually touching the plate.

Even though everyone is waiting with more anticipation than normal considering the magnitude of the play, there is no need for you to rush.

A good technique is to call the runner safe as soon as you determine that he is, but to ensure that you see the ball — “Show me the ball!” — before you call an out. More than one umpire has been fooled thinking that an out has occurred at the plate only to find the pitcher chasing the baseball that has gotten away.

The scoring of a run is final, so once you have ruled the runner has met his responsibilities, you can’t turn back. That is why the plate is treated differently than other bases when it comes to the runner missing. If you signal safe, the run has scored. You can’t make that (or any) signal until the runner is either out or has touched the plate.

Yes, that tips off the defense when no signal is made, but the defense isn’t the one who made the mistake of not touching.

Matt Moore is a Referee associate editor.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 11/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – A One and a Two and a …

How to Set and Maintain a Good Tempo


By Jon Bible

Before a game last season, while the rest of the officials on my crew were on the field handling their pregame duties, I was visiting with my TV liaison. He had watched a high school game the night before and was appalled at its poor tempo. He opined that one aspect of creating a positive image and establishing confidence and credibility that could stand more attention was tempo — crew members, and the crew as a whole, maintaining a smooth and consistent rhythm and pace throughout the game.

I think the first step in ensuring a good flow to things is establishing a time frame for pregame crew matters and sticking with it. Has the game time and site been confirmed? Do the crew members know that information?

Where and when will they meet and how will they travel to the site? Who is responsible for handling what parts of the pregame? Where will it be held, when will it start and roughly how long will it last?

Officials tend to be antsy before a game, and the more confused and uncertain things are, the more one’s comfort level decreases, which can seriously impair onfield performance. To prevent that, the crew chief cannot leave things to chance. Rather, he must ensure that everyone knows in advance what they and the others will be doing and when they will do it, then adhere to the script and insist that others do so. Depending on how things work in your area, part of that may be ensuring that the school or game manager has been contacted and advised of when the crew will arrive.

If some or all officials have defined pregame duties, they need to be carried out in an orderly and timely manner. In the Big 12 Conference, for example, there is a set time when the umpire and I are to meet with the coaches, the ball boys meet with the side and field judges, the game and 25-second clock operators meet with the back judge, the head linesman meets with the chain crew and the referee microphone is to be delivered to the dressing room and an onfield mic check is done. The crew goes on the field in shifts to monitor team behavior and compliance with uniform policies. It is essential that those things are done per the prescribed time frame, and I will notify our boss if something goes awry. For example, if the umpire and I go too early to find the home coach before the game (an hour and 15 minutes before game time is the scheduled time), it can be off-putting to him. That in turn can affect how things go when the game gets started.

Once the game starts, the referee is in charge of setting its tempo. A vital part of that is having a set rhythm in marking the ball ready for play. If that is done too quickly, the offense may not be able to communicate its next play and get the right personnel in. If it is done too slowly, things drag. Worst of all, if it is done inconsistently, no one knows what to expect and things get out of kilter.

A-One-and-a-Two-and-a-ScreenshotMental count. I make a practice of mentally counting after the play ends before I blow the whistle to mark the ball ready for play. If the previous play is a run up the middle, meaning the umpire will likely spot the ball quickly, I count to 10. If it is a play in the side zone or an incomplete pass, it will take a few seconds to relay the ball in to the umpire, so I count to eight. The goal is to be consistent and blow the ready 18 seconds after each play ends.

I’ve experimented with counting to four, five, seven, etc. Last season I went to eight to 10 seconds, and that seems to work well. Part of my calculation involves the fact that my umpire spots the ball a few seconds quicker than most umpires. To compensate, I need to be a tad slower in blowing the ready than other referees. For whatever reason you may find that counting to a different number works better, but the important thing is to count to some number. If you do, you will be consistent throughout the game and the teams will quickly adapt to, and get in step with, your pace in marking the ball ready. That will go a long way toward ensuring a smooth flow to the game. You don’t need to wait the full eight to 10 seconds if the offense goes to the line and it is apparent they are ready to go. In fact, if you do wait, you can cause problems by keeping them from getting the snap off as quickly as they’d like. In a hurry-up offense with the clock running, you want to be sure that the crew is in position and the players are on the proper side of the line of scrimmage. But you need to be consistent in marking the ball ready and not get in too much of a hurry. If you do, you will hurt the offense if you wait the normal amount of time for the ready. When everyone is set, get things going.

Another aspect of tempo is how the crew moves on the field. Sometimes an official has to bust his rear to get to where he needs to be, but most of the time we can glide seemingly effortlessly to our proper position. A crew can seem “not ready for prime time” if its members are running around like chickens with their heads cut off instead of operating in “cruise control,” as former NFL Director of Officiating Jerry Seeman used to call it.

When a play ends in midfield, the wing officials don’t need to come racing in — unless the goalline or line-to-gain is threatened — but instead can simply take a few steps forward to give the umpire the proper spot. Staying back also gives the wing officials a wider field of vision, which is helpful in dead-ball officiating. Also, when a play ends, it is counterproductive to have multiple officials converging on the dead-ball spot. The crew should use the “ring” concept, with the covering official watching the immediate pile of players (and not getting so close to the pile that he can’t see the “big picture”). The next-nearest officials watch action in the ring around the pile and the other officials look at the remainder of the field. In sum, cruise control not only creates the perception that the crew knows what it is doing, but it also results in better field coverage.

Penalty enforcement has a vital tempo aspect. It can be done expeditiously while losing nothing in terms of accuracy. There is, for example, no need to have a crew conference on a simple false start. The referee should confirm that it is a false start, get the player’s number, give the signal (and make the announcement if applicable) and get on with it. Although they are sometimes necessary, crew conferences create the perception of uncertainty and detract from the overall flow of the game. In my experience in watching games, there are generally far too many confabs. If you don’t have something constructive to offer to the discussion, stay away. In addition, precious time is lost when the referee needlessly gives a preliminary signal (on a false start or delay of game, for example) or walks 10, 15 or 20 yards away to give the signal on a foul.

Ballhandling. The crew’s ball mechanics involve tempo. The ball should be carefully relayed from one official to the next, taking care to ensure that it can be caught chest-high and will not be dropped. Nothinglooks sloppier than balls bouncing around the field because they were hastily or inaccurately thrown. The game flow is disrupted when officials have to chase balls that have bounced several yards away.

When the play ends, don’t be too quick to get the ball or to look for a new one from a ball boy; be sure that there are no dead-ball fouls or other problems, get a ball in a cruise-control manner, then calmly and deliberately relay it in. Try to do so in the same manner and pace throughout the game.

Finally, be conscious of the time between quarters, after trys or field goals, during halftime and during timeouts. If the rule says that X amount of time is to be allotted, have someone on the crew track it to be sure that no more or less is granted. When everyone is lollygagging around and timeouts and halftimes stretch several seconds (or minutes) beyond the allotted time, any semblance of game tempo is destroyed.

Pay attention to tempo before and during a game, and your performance, and the extent to which others perceive you as capable and in control will be greatly enhanced. Jon Bible is a veteran football official from Austin, Texas. He is a referee in the Big 12 Conference.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Right People, Right Place, Right Time

Making the right moves in assigning isn’t easy. Assigners must make sure all the pieces are in the right position. Find out what strategy is involved in the assigning game.


By Matt Moore

It takes a special person to be a good assigner. You’ve got to find the right people, send them to the right place and do it at the right time. Look what happens if you don’t:

• Send a crew (the wrong people) to a game that is above their skill level, and all hell can break loose. The game will end up out of control and there will be many angry people. Two second-year officials were randomly sent to a girls’ basketball game on a Monday night. The only problem was it was a rivalry game that would decide first place. The game was intense from the word go and the officials weren’t prepared, individually or as a crew. By halftime coaches, players and administrators were upset. Both officials were out of their league that night. Problems caused, not problems solved.

• Send a great crew (the right people) to a game where they aren’t needed (the wrong place), and a lot of hard feelings will exist. An ex-professional baseball umpire worked a small college game and was offended when a coach called him, “Blue.” After the umpire’s reaction, the coach was so annoyed that the umpire had lost all credibility in the coach’s eyes and the coach was on the phone to the assigner that night. Problems caused, not problems solved.

• Send a great crew to the right game and sometimes that’s not even enough. There are too many variables to know for sure in advance if things will go well on any given night of the season. All it takes is one misstep, one coach having a bad night and one official not handling one situation correctly. Look at any game in the highest professional level and see ejections in baseball or technical fouls in basketball. The crew was “right” for the game, but maybe not that night, for whatever reason. Again, problems caused, not problems solved.

So what makes a successful assigner? Simply put, it’s the one who more often than not gets the right people into the right place at the right time.

That topic was explored during the 2013 NASO Sports Officiating Summit with an expert panel of assigners, past and present, weighing in on what they believe were the keys to their successes.


For high school and college basketball assigner Donnie Eppley, the first key is to be patient. Eppley assigns for 42 high schools and 38 colleges and universities throughout the Northeast.

“I have to wait for other levels to assign,” he said. “And on my staff, I have about 200 basketball officials at the collegiate level. Many of them work at other levels to include Division I, II and III.

“What I’ve got to do is to wait for those levels to come out. So the Division I assignments will begin to come out in early August. It takes about a month for that entire process to take place. And then the Division IIs will take their opportunity to grab some of the officials. And then it’s crunch time for me because our season starts around mid-November and guys want to know where they’re going to be working. So I have to be patient.”

Once Eppley, the associate executive director for IAABO, starts scheduling his games, he does each official individually.

“I pull up somebody’s name, match it against their availability, and then I make an entire schedule,” he said. “It takes about 20 minutes to do a schedule, anywhere from 20 to 30 games for my officials. After I finish my college assignments I have to get busy with the high schools.”

Because he assigns at multiple levels, Eppley is able to develop officials for the next level. “We’re able to identify young talent and keep the people going through the system,” he said.

Eppley also makes it a point to balance veteran officials with younger officials).

“As I’m hiring new people, and last year I had turned over about 31 new officials for Division III, I take those officials and give them a variety of preseason assignments, some tournaments and various levels of assignments that actually balance somebody that’s been around for a while with a rookie to get them some experience at the collegiate level,” he said.

Time management is a big key for Eppley, whose full-time job with IAABO comes first.

Marty Hickman is the executive director for the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), so the only assigning his office does is playoff games. But because those are the games with the most importance in his state, it’s still critical to get the right people on the right game.

“It’s important that for us at the high school level certainly to know the teams in the rivalry type games and to know the personalities of the coaches and the officials and try to get a good fit in there,” Hickman said. “And that’s one of our toughest assignments, especially in a situation where we have a lot of officials and a lot of games and having to identify some of the games that might be more troublesome than others.”

Hickman and his staff got an up-close-and-personal experience in dealing with a troublesome situation at the 2013 state basketball tournament. “I can tell you,” he said, “if the executive director is getting involved, something’s gone horribly wrong.”

The Class 2A championship game was marred with accusations of racial slurs, leading to technical fouls and an unprecedented demand from Hickman himself at halftime.

“(We) expressed our concerns to the schools about what had occurred in the first half, including three technical fouls, a player ejection and a bench warning,” Hickman told the Chicago Tribune at the time of the incident. “The onus was put on the coaches to provide the necessary leadership to change the tenor of the game. We also made it very clear that if things did not change, we would take the unprecedented step of canceling the game.”

Hickman and the staff knew the game had potential to be rough, but probably not as rough as it was.

“We’ve got a north/south kind of rivalry, we’ve got a very rural school and a city school,” he said. “They’re 350 miles apart and cultures apart. And from the very tipoff the game really didn’t go well.

“We thought we had done literally everything right in terms of looking at this game. We knew this was coming. We thought we had the right officials.”

Hickman praised the officials, but said that the game just got out of hand early, resulting in his unprecedented intervention.

“So this is just an example of how even with a lot of preparation, things can go wrong,” Hickman said. “But it also provides some very teachable moments for us as we move forward in our assigning process.”


Getting officials to buy into the vision of the person leading the staff — whether it is a state office or a college conference commissioner — is critical for success and not always easy.

“I think it’s really important that you have your top people understand the path that you’re going to travel, and it takes a lot of communication,” said Ed Rush, who officiated in the NBA for 31 seasons and was the director of officiating for the league for five years. He’s also the former coordinator for officials in the Pac-12 Conference.

“I had been with the Pac-12 for six years, and I worked on the side of development,” he said. “And then in the last two years we actually developed a sense of measurement, and we had a program where we did game grading. And it was a system that was strong enough that it was 45 percent of their ratings.

“There were a lot of folks that were loving that, and they just seized the moment. And then there were a handful of guys, that’s a pretty dramatic change, and they really had trouble with that.”

Rush ran a three-and-a-half day camp for his staff, spending a full day on the NCAA-mandated topic of sportsmanship and bench decorum.

“We talked about principles. It was very successful. As a matter of fact, 10 out of the 12 coaches actually went out of their way to say this is the best,” he said, because the coaches knew the boundaries and that officials were consistent with those boundaries.

Rush resigned as the conference’s coordinator a week before the 2013 Final Four because of an incident in which he made a joking reference during a pregame meeting with his officials in an attempt to ensure coaches would receive a technical foul if they didn’t behave better on the sideline during the next game of the tournament.

Rush said he learned a lot from the experience as it relates to working with officials and developing a staff.

“The takeaway from that for all of us in leadership is that when you’re in leadership and basketball is an emotional game,” he said, “you really have to be very careful about what you say, who you say it to, how you say it.”

Sometimes, getting the right people on the floor can be made more difficult because of the rules that restrict who can be assigned.

Joan Powell, the NCAA’s national coordinator of volleyball officials, assigns the officials for three national tournaments — a difficult job for sure to be responsible for officials across the country and across three levels.

“I have four great regional advisers,” Powell said. “One actually is a retired volleyball coach, two are veteran officials and one is a conference coordinator. And with those people I’m able to travel quite a bit in the fall and also evaluate and see a lot of officials.”

Complicating matters for Powell is that the NCAA Division II and III staffs no longer want to wait on Division I to assign playoff officials. The Division III Volleyball Committee selected officials in February for the season, and the Division II committee selected its officials in March.

“Officials (weren’t) being evaluated for their body of work for 2013, (it was) actually 2012,” she said. “But that’s what Division II and III want to do. Nominations come from their conferences and from volleyball coaches.”

The rules and the assignments are different in Division I. Powell assigns line judges as well, something she doesn’t have to do at the lower levels. Also, she is limited to a 400-mile radius. However, she does get to fly some officials when necessary at that level.

There can still be problems.

“It’s very easy for (postseason officials) to talk about how everything’s already pre-determined and that the NCAA already decides who they want,” she said. “It’s not true at all. I have to be cautious of what has happened in the past during the season, whether or not there were conflicts with coaches, whether or not this is a good venue for a particular official to be at. We put them in crews but they don’t necessarily advance as crews.”


There are complications in getting the right person to the right place at the right time at every level. Two that were discussed are officials staying on top of when they are available (since they are independent contractors) and working together with other officials.

“To have the best crew, you have to understand team officiating,” Rush said. “You have to understand that in a three-person system, what you do on the floor has to elevate the performance of the other two officials.”

The decision to become an assigner isn’t an easy one, because in most cases, it means coming off the field or court.

“I miss (officiating) so much,” Powell said. “There’s just some aggravation that comes and some consternation being an assigner. There’s some great pressure. But in officiating you kind of leave it behind. You debrief afterward in the locker room and then you’re able to move on.”

Part of being an assigner, however, is dealing with what happens when it’s the wrong person, the wrong time or the wrong place — it only takes one of the three.

Hickman stresses to officials who work championship games in the future that they are there to take care of business. “We’re fearful at our level that what happens sometimes in a championship game is our officials take the attitude that they don’t want to really influence the outcome, they are going to let them play. They’re maybe going to let the coaches get away with a little more than they should, and it’s exactly the wrong thing to do.”

While Hickman can meet with the officials he assigns, since they are all at one site, Eppley can’t get to his officials with more than a general message through email. But the coaches sure get to him with their opinions of games, crews and calls.

“I have a rule where the coach can’t call me on game night, so they’ve got to review the film and then contact me the next day,” he said. “And that applies to all levels, high school and college. They’ve got about a 24-hour period to get over it. The officials — if there’s a problem in the game — have got to call that night so I’m aware of it.”

Rush liked what Eppley requires, calling it powerful.

“On any situation I encourage people to call, but we have watched everything,” Rush said. “And there were many times coaches would call and I could say, ‘I know why you’re calling. In addition I have a couple more plays you might want to look at.’

“That’s really disarming. They trust you, they know that people are accountable, and it really changed the dynamics.”


Hickman praised the power of video as it related to his situation in the state finals.

“When the little shove happened in our game there was a gasp in the arena because everybody knew you just can’t do that,” he said. “That doesn’t happen in high school sports. But it took until the folks could really see that video for them to believe that what that kid did was inappropriate. At the moment, they weren’t buying that it was just a little touch.”

Eppley requires his Division III officials to register through  the ArbiterSports central hub for basketball, because of the training videos.

“I believe all officials at all levels should see those videos because it’s the same game regardless of the level,” he said. “I think they do an excellent job of putting those on the site.”

So far, it’s all been about what happens when one of the three elements — right people, right place, right time — is missing. What about when it all goes right?

“The biggest joy that I get is the postseason,” Eppley said. “Last year at the Division III level, I had 28 postseason assignments in the four conferences, and I had 21 NCAA assignments. And out of the NCAA assignments I was able to send a crew to the Division III Final Four, and that’s very satisfying.”

Rush noted he switched the system in the Pac-12 from opportunity given to opportunity earned.

“We put six new people into the tournament, and every single one of them graded in the top 20 percent during the tournament itself,” he said. “So being able to see them succeed in a higher pressure level in a place that they’d never been before, to lay that foundation to me I think that’s the leaders of the future. That was really gratifying.”

Hickman is very proud of his state’s officials.

“When all those pieces come together and they get an opportunity after many years of service to work a championship game or a state final game, and to see the looks on their faces and to see how much joy they have as being part of that experience, it’s really heartwarming.”

For Powell, it’s the chance to be the bearer of good news.

“I think it’s the phone call telling somebody, especially a first-timer in postseason, letting them know that they have been nominated and they have been assigned to a postseason game,” she said. “It’s just so gratifying to hear that ‘Woohoo!’”

Matt Moore is a Referee associate editor. He has umpired for more than 25 years, mostly at the high school and college levels.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 03/14 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Volleyball – That’s a Reach

Three Easy Ways to Judge Over-the-Net Faults

Volleyball - That’s-a-Reach

By Kelly Callahan

With the athletic players in today’s game, net play can be fast and intimidating. Sometimes, even the rules about net play can seem complicated and intimidating to officials. That is often the case with the “over-the-net fault” (illegally reaching beyond the net), as it happens so quickly.

For an official to properly rule on that play, he or she must have a thorough understanding of the rules governing those plays. When breaking down the reaching over-the-net fault, it’s not as difficult as it might first appear. It starts with understanding a basic principle of the game.

To fully grasp the over-the-net rule, you must first have a thorough knowledge of the difference between a block and an attack. For that, you must understand the definitions of each term and the portions of those definitions which apply to the over-the net rule. Why is that important? According to the rules, a player cannot attack a ball completely over the net, but a player may contact a ball completely across the net as long as “the contact is a legal block.” To rule on the over-the-net fault correctly, you have to understand the difference between the two. 

Attack. Any action other than a block or a serve that directs the ball toward the opponent’s court. An attack includes a spike, tip, dump and overhead pass.

Block. The action of a player(s) close to the net that deflects the ball coming from the opponent by reaching higher than the top of the net at the moment of contact. A block may involve wrist action provided there is no prolonged contact, a catch or throw.

With the knowledge of the difference between those acts, you can now look at the legal instances where a player can block a ball over the net and understand the situations that surround them. For that, it really is as simple as 1-2-3.

1. The attacking team has completed its three allowable hits. The instant a team has made its third contact, it is fair game for a blocker to reach over the net and contact the ball, no matter where that third contact was made. (Tip: You count contacts anyway, so say to yourself, “Third hit.”)

2. The attacking team has had the opportunity to complete the attack or, in the referee’s judgment, directs the ball toward the opponent’s court. If you think the team was attacking the ball and sending it to the opponent’s court, the blocker can reach across the net completely and block the ball. That is where you really need to keep the types of attacks in mind (spike, tip, dump and overhead pass). It doesn’t have to look like a hard hit for the blocker to be able to reach over the net legally after that contact. If a setter decides to dump on the second contact, the blocker has the opportunity to reach over and block it legally. (Tip: Say to yourself, “Directed over” or “Attack.”)

3. The ball is falling near the net and, in the referee’s judgment, no legal member of the attacking team could make a play on the ball. For example, players are running back near the endline to help save a ball when on a second contact, a player sends the ball sailing toward the net. It doesn’t look like the ball will cross the net, but it’s close. There is no one from the team in the vicinity who can make any type of contact on the ball. At that point, it is legal for the blocker to reach over and make contact. (Tip: Say to yourself, “Near net and no one around.”)

After you break it down, that’s the whole rule about over-the-net faults and it’s not as complicated as it may seem. If, while you are officiating, you say those three tips to yourself, it will help make ruling on those situations a lot easier by enabling you to slow things down in your mind. In the fast-paced world of volleyball, that ability can’t be overestimated and provides officials a level of comfort that only a thorough understanding of the rules can provide. With that understanding and increased comfort level, you can make the complicated plays easier. In the end, the over-the-net/reaching beyond the net fault is all about keeping it as easy as 1-2-3.

Kelly Callahan is a high school and college volleyball and basketball official from Wilmington, Del.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 03/14 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Basketball – Five Minutes With Karen Preato


Hometown: Greensboro, N.C.

Started officiating at the college level in 1998 and entered the D-I ranks in 2003. Currently works in the Atlantic 10, Atlantic Coast, Atlantic Sun, American Athletic, Big East, Big South, Conference USA, Colonial, Patriot and Southern conferences.

REFEREE: True or false? Double whistles are bad.

PREATO: False. When it is points of intersection, it’s a confirmation that the officials have the same call. We’re tuned in to own our primary and call our primary. If you want to come fishing all the way over from the trail into the C’s area, come on over, but you’re responsible for that. But I can make that call. When you have areas of intersection, you have a quick second on the court. You can’t look at the floor and say, “Oh, is that the lead’s or is that mine?” I think it’s instinct that you know where the play is, that you understand that it’s an area of intersection. You’re going to have a double whistle at times.

REFEREE: What effect does trusting the system and your partners play?

PREATO: It kind of goes back to fishing in the pond. It’s a regular job. People go to work as accountants, as doctors, as dentists, they have a job to do. So do officials. I know that if I’m in my area and you’re in the C, I’m in the trail. I know you have a job to do and you’re going to do it. The reason why you may not do something is because you couldn’t see it. Or there’s been times when a player pushes an official while chasing a loose ball, and all of a sudden it’s an obvious foul. I now know I need to go and help. So I trust him or her to give that official the opportunity, but I’m doing what’s best for the game. It’s not for the official, it’s for the players. It’s the right call. Trust your partners and work the system; plays are going to call themselves. Sometimes the official just can’t get to where he or she needs to be and somebody else can see it better.

REFEREE: What are common areas for double whistles to occur?

PREATO: The free-throw line, transition, screens, sometimes the top of the key when you’ve got the screen coming off the dribbler, maybe leaving the trail going to the C, and on a screen down in the blocks, the paint.

REFEREE: Art versus science. Can it be all science?

PREATO: You cannot get every play. You can’t. People put plays up and they say they want that called. OK, I can do that. Well, sometimes it is different when you’re on the floor. Sometimes you think you have the right call on the floor and you go back and you’re like, “Oh, we missed that little hold first. We couldn’t see this, but we could see everything else.” Is it really the art or science? You can’t get there. We joke about if they put robots on the floor and every time they see it, bam, bam, bam. You can just sit up in the stands, like video. Foul, foul, foul, foul.

REFEREE: What is more important: play-calling, mechanics or rules knowledge?

PREATO: Most definitely rules. I need to know what was illegal about the contact or the violation that I just put a whistle on, because now I’m penalizing the team for a violation or I’m penalizing a player and giving them a foul. I need to know if they established legal guarding position to draw that charge. Were they vertical to block a shot? Did they come through the shooter? I need to understand the definitions or the rules in order to enforce what I’m calling on the floor. If I call a push on the spot and now I come to the table and I report a hit, that’s bad mechanics, right? Now the coach can say to me, “Karen, what did you really see on that play? You called a push. At the table you just said you got a hit.” I’ll say, “Well Coach, she pushed.” I think sometimes we all get caught up in mechanics. We might have forgotten to close our fist for a foul. But I can give them the rule interpretation of what I called on the floor. Most of the time coaches see the play. They know how that girl got to that floor when it’s obvious. When there’s a questionable one, that’s when knowing the rules or applying the definition of why you’re calling a foul is important.

All Sports – You’re Your Own Agent

How to Be Attractive to an Assigner

By Michael Menard

At a referee development camp that I attended last summer, the camp director began with a single question: “Who is your agent?”

After a period of silence that seemed to last forever, he answered his own question with one word: “You.”

As odd as it may seem, you are your own agent. You are not like a professional basketball player whose agent makes or negotiates many of his decisions for him. It is your responsibility to create your own schedule, be in demand and prove that you can do the job. You are responsible for the number and level of games you work. In fact, if you want to become successful as an official, it is crucial to understand that you are responsible for almost everything that happens to you.

However, as the late philosopher Jim Rohn once said, “When you’re playing the game, it’s hard to think of everything.” You need some help. Maybe you need a mentor, or maybe you just need someone in your corner to get your foot in the door. That is where the assigner comes into play.

Two roles. One of the interesting things about sports officials is that we have the dual role of athlete and agent. On one hand, we are responsible for performing at our very best each and every game we work. On the other hand, we must also make sure that we have games to work in the first place. Having a solid relationship with your assigner is perhaps one of the best things you can do to advance your officiating career. It can ensure that you are always in demand.

The main reason for having a great official-assigner relationship is simple and obvious: You want to work bigger, better games — and more of them. It won’t happen overnight. But with diligence, patience and hard work, you can get there.

Officials are considered to be “free agents.” You can only eat what you kill. In the entrepreneurial world, we say that increasing your rewards — in the case of officiating, that is your game count — starts with increasing your value. The more valuable you become as an official, the more games you work, the better games you work and the more satisfied you will be knowing that you are very good at what you do.

So what are some ways you can make yourself more valuable to your assigner?

Hard, hard work. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true. Hard work will get you noticed not only by assigners, but by coaches and other officials. You make yourself desirable as someone other officials want to work with and that assigners want to hire. Simply put, if you are not seen as a hard worker, it will be harder for you to convince your assigner that you are willing to work bigger and better games.

Assigners are not in the business of gambling. Their jobs depend on the quality of officials they send to games. They want to know that the crew they put out on the court or field will get the job done.

Coaches do take notice of hard-working officials, and they may actually tell assigners what a good job you did. That will definitely separate you from the officials who get little to no positive feedback at all.

Work with the rookie. Assigners are always looking for more experienced officials to work with new officials. You can make your assigner’s job so much easier — and enhance your schedule — by offering to work games with a rookie or a less experienced official. Veteran officials are accustomed to working with other veterans. We all like working with people we already know. But if you work with someone new to you, you may find you’ve found another official you trust and with whom you feel comfortable working.

Take the game nobody wants. That might mean doing the Sunday morning game, the game on what was supposed to be on your night off, or the one between cellar-dwellers that won’t show up on the 10 o’clock news.

Our local association has the “Fireman Award” for the official who accepts the most last-minute game turnbacks. Making your assigner’s job easier will increase your value as an official tremendously.

Keep up your availability. Keep your schedule up to date on a regular basis. Turn in all your paperwork on time. When you accept a game, keep it. One of the easiest ways to annoy your assigner is to constantly decline games they offer you because you fail to block your schedule. If you are constantly wondering why you aren’t getting games, that may be the reason why.

One of the logistics coordinators for our development program loves to use the term “low maintenance.” That means keeping things simple: Review your schedule regularly, accept games that are offered and move on. Be low maintenance, and the rest will seem to take care of itself.

Network at local meetings. Introduce yourself to the assigners. Talk to the officials who work at the level you want to work. Demonstrate to them that you are willing to work hard and are open to learning from each game you officiate. Don’t be pushy with them, but show them you are ambitious and ready for whatever game you accept.

And finally, remember that the bridge between you and your games is your assigner. Treat him or her with the same courtesy you would treat your family members. According to Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People, 85 percent of success or failure in any field comes from communication and dealing with other people.

Understanding that one principle will propel you forward more than you can imagine, no matter what you do in life — because you are your own agent in officiating and in life.

Michael Menard lives in Hamburg, N.Y. He is a veteran ice hockey official at the youth, high school, adult, college club, junior and collegiate levels.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 03/16 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Softball – Game-Time Decisions

Follow Top-Level Umpires as They Work Out Hangups in Series


By Rick Woelfel

Watching an NCAA Division I crew at work is akin to attending an umpiring seminar. I was afforded that opportunity in late April when Drexel hosted Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) rival George Mason in a three-game weekend series.

The presenters were Gary Yost, Joe McGeever and John Bradbury, all veteran college umpires with some six decades of collegiate experience among them. Yost has been to two Division I regionals, Bradbury to one.

The crew offered practical lessons that would benefit any umpire, regardless of experience.

Preparedness prevents problems.

During its pregame meeting, the crew focused on its rotations and fly-ball coverages. They don’t want to go into the outfield unless it’s necessary.

“We want to have that advantage (of three sets of eyes in the infield) as often as we can,” Yost says. “We’ll stay in as often as we can. On deep shots to the outfield you’re going to have multiple bases being touched. So the more eyes we have on that in the infield, the better off we are.”

It is a particularly important series for Drexel, which is contending for a bid in the CAA postseason tournament. The crew briefly discusses the various playoff scenarios before taking the field, where they check the bats of both teams to verify they are legal; the NCAA requires the process be repeated before the second game of the doubleheader as well.

The third team on the field. Yost, Philadelphia, is the crew chief and has the plate for the first game with McGeever, West Deptford, N.J., at first and Bradbury, Philadelphia, at third.

With one out and the bases empty in the home second, a Drexel player, batting left-handed, lays down a drag bunt along the first-base line. The ball deflects off her front foot. Yost has primary responsibility for the call, but he’s screened by the catcher popping up in front of him. McGeever kills the ball while Bradbury echoes the dead-ball signal. The crew huddles at the edge of the circle and determines the batter was out of the batter’s box.

After Yost signals the out call the Drexel coach questions whether the ball was fair and the crew huddles again. Bradbury confirms that it was indeed a fair ball and Yost again indicates the batter is out.

Throughout the situation and throughout the weekend, the umpires project an image of solidarity. They provide honest feedback to one another, but it’s clear they’re a cohesive unit.

Communication counts. McGeever moves behind the plate for game two, with Bradbury shifting to first and Yost to third.

As was the case in the opener, complaints about balls and strikes are virtually non-existent. McGeever makes sure, however, to keep the lines of communication open with the George Mason catcher working in front of him. The two hold a brief conversation after the home first.

“I called one pitch on the corner a strike,” McGeever says. “The next pitch was a little farther outside (for a ball).” She yelled out to her pitcher ‘You just missed it.’ So she kind of knew what I was doing. (Catchers) ask more questions at the beginning than they do at the end. They kind of see what you’re doing.”

At one point McGeever gets help on a swipe-tag play along the first-base line. The George Mason first baseman thought she made a tag, but McGeever makes no signal.

Upon request from the George Mason coach, he goes to his partner for assistance; Bradbury, working near second base, indicates there was no tag.

Yost has a close play of his own on a steal at second base when the runner beats the throw but overslides. Yost stays with it and correctly calls her out.

The two teams leave the field with a doubleheader split.

One pitch, one play at a time. Bradbury has the plate for the series finale on Sunday. Yost is at first while Tim Gallagher, another veteran umpire, replaces McGeever (not available on this day) at third.

Bradbury finds he’s having to work extra hard on balls and strikes. At one point he calls a high strike on a Drexel batter and the coach gives him a verbal blast.

“You know when you miss a pitch high or low,” Bradbury says. “I asked Gary (between innings) how it looked and he told me, ‘That was up.’

”When that happens you just have to take a deep breath and stay with every pitch.”

Meanwhile, Yost is having half a season’s worth of bang-bang plays at first base, or so it seems. At one point the George Mason coach pops out of the dugout to question a call. Yost meets him midway up the foul line.

“All I’ll do is answer direct questions,” Yost says. “I’ll take my (sunglasses) off, I know he’s coming, I’ll meet him halfway.

“He said, ‘What do you have?’ I said, ‘Well, clearly I have the runner beating the throw.’ He said, ‘Can you go for help?’ I said, ‘You know that’s not happening. It’s my call.’

“You live and die with it (but) on a close call, somebody’s not going to be happy with whatever word comes out of my mouth.”

It’s a short day for the crew; the game is called via the eight-run mercy rule after five innings with George Mason leading, 13-4. For the crew it’s a rather abrupt end to a weekend of challenges, great and small.

Sequel: Two days after the Drexel-George Mason series concluded, I was assigned to cover a high school game. Bradbury had the plate for what turned out to be a 1-0 nine-inning affair. He worked just as hard for the high school players as he had for the college players. That lesson may be the most important of all.

Rick Woelfel is a freelance writer and softball umpire from Philadelphia.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 08/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

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